If we exercise regularly are we less likely to get ill and more likely to live longer? Might exercise not only help physical fitness but also improve mental health? Does it help improve posture and give our body a more toned look?

Some of the main health benefits of exercise are:

Controlling Weight: Exercise is recommended if we want to control our weight. Obese people are often inactive. Regular exercise, if combined with a healthy diet, accelerates weight loss.

Strengthening Bones and Joints: Regular and moderate activities such as walking, swimming and cycling can help treat and reduce pain caused by osteoarthritis in elderly people. Physical activity increases bone density, whatever our age, and helps to maintain strong bones throughout our life. This helps prevent osteoporosis in old age. Weight bearing exercises such as running and skipping put weight on our bones and increase bone density.

Reducing the risk of chronic diseases: such as colon cancer, breast cancer (after the menopause), lung and endometrial cancers are less common in physically active people. Exercise has also been shown to control blood sugar levels and prevent long-term complications related to Type 2 diabetes - which is more common in middle aged people who are overweight, have high blood pressure or a family history of diabetes.

Heart Health: Regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, two main killers of the elderly in the West. Inactive people have almost double the risk of dying from heart disease compared with people who are active.Taking exercise can also help to reduce high blood pressure which is linked to stroke and heart attack and is common in old age.Taking regular exercise reduces “bad” blood cholesterol levels, but increases “good” cholesterol. This reduces the risk of heart disease.

Mental health: Exercise is believed to both help prevent and also treat mental illness. This is possibly because regular exercise increases endorphin, a hormone with a “feel good factor” making people feel happier. Exercise also helps achieve better sleep and lower stress levels and boosts self-confidence by improving brain function.

What types of exercise should we consider?

  • Walking is a great type of aerobic exercise for all ages. It involves no expense and has little strain on the joints, so is excellent for beginners and elderly people
  • Cycling is good for improving fitness and helps to strengthen the upper leg muscles and balance, as well as helping you get around.
  • Swimming involves almost all muscles in the body with little harm to the joints. Swimming is also believed to soften stiff joints.
  • Aerobic exercise involves almost all the muscles in the body, but has also some impact on the joints. If you have fragile joints be be careful not to overdo it!
  • Running is rather similar to walking, but burns more calories. So it improves fitness more rapidly than walking and once again is cost effective.
  • Ball games such as football, rugby, basketball, etc. are a good way to get motivated and be a team player. These games also enhance concentration and brain function.
  • Dancing reduces stress and lowers the risk of coronorary heart disease. It also increases muscle tone and coordination, strengthens the bones in your legs and hips - and even reduces the risk of Alzheimers and other forms of dementia.
  • Yoga, pilates and tai chi focus on agility and flexibility and they will help relaxation and improve circulation, balance and posture.
  • Meditation - Practicing meditation has been shown to induce some changes in the body. By learning more about what goes on in the body during meditation, researchers hope to be able to identify diseases or conditions for which meditation might be useful.’

Experts recommend these exercises at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes on three or more days a week as a good way to keep healthy.

See below for further information on Exercise and Fitness:

Exercise Myths


Tai Chi


Published 01/04/2011. Reviewed November 2012. Next review date November 2015